Ukraine is preparing to defend against an anticipated new large-scale Russian offensive in the coming months, as the war approaches its second year. According to recent analysis by military experts and intelligence assessments, Russia aims to achieve decisive battlefield victories and territorial gains this year that could force Ukraine into concessions.
Russia Gears Up for Massive Multi-Front Attack to Regain Momentum
After the tough fighting last year that saw Russia gain ground in Donbas but fail to capture key cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv, Moscow has spent the winter refitting and reinforcing its forces for renewed attacks. Russia currently holds around 18% of internationally recognized Ukrainian territory under its control.
Intelligence suggests Russia is preparing for simultaneous offensives on at least two fronts when the ground freezes over to support their heavy weapons and vehicles, likely in late February or March. The Institute for the Study of War assessed that:
“The Russian military seeks to conduct decisive and simultaneous mechanized offensives from more than one direction across Ukraine to regain the initiative and force Ukraine to fight on multiple fronts this winter.”
With over 300,000 mobilized personnel moved up to frontline positions in recent months, Russia appears to be marshaling the forces for major new thrusts in Luhansk/Donetsk in the east as well as further west towards Zaporizhia.
Putin Eyes Hammer Blow to Force a Settlement
The Kremlin likely aims to achieve dramatic gains that could break Ukraine’s resistance and compel negotiations on Russia’s terms.
Controlling the remainder of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, capturing Zaporizhia Oblast, and/or seizing more Black Sea coastline appear key objectives. Russian forces seek to envelop and crush highly capable Ukrainian units in those areas.
As military analyst Konrad Muzyka assessed:
“Russia might try to force Ukraine into peace talks by capturing oblasts Russia claims to have annexed.”
Simultaneously, Moscow plans to continue missile and drone attacks on critical infrastructure to sap Ukraine’s economy and morale ahead of ground operations.
Ukraine Refuses to Yield Defensively Despite Risk of Loss
While braced for the looming Russian assault, Ukraine has firmly rejected suggestions to assume a defensive posture that cedes territory to conserve forces.
Ukraine’s Chief Intelligence Directorate deputy head Vadym Skibitsky asserted that:
“There will be no withdrawal to the rear, no defensive crouching. We cannot afford any territory loss.”
Ceding populated areas risks undermining Ukraine’s political will to continue fighting.
Letting Russia dictate the tempo could also enable further destabilizing gains. Ukraine may need to accept some tactical setbacks to retain initiative. Skibitsky acknowledged:
“We understand that the loss of settlements, even tactical defeats, are inevitable.”
Ukraine instead intends to mount localized counter-attacks against vulnerable Russian rear areas, though these are unlikely to substantively impact Russia’s main effort.
extended fight expected even with Russian gains
Most analysts do not foresee Russia achieving a sudden battlefield victory that collapse’s Ukraine’s capacity for resistance.
The Institute for the Study of War judges that:
“Neither side currently retains the ability to conduct operations at a scale and speed to rapidly or dramatically change the course of the conflict.”
With abundant manpower reserves and extensive Western backing, Ukraine seems set to sustain its defense and mount counter-offensives later in 2024 even if compelled to give ground to Russian offensives in the coming months.
Muzyka projects the war continuing for years “in the form of a low-intensity conflict with localized clashes and shelling along the line of contact.” But Russia’s ability to sustain intense, large-scale offensives remains limited, and its gains are likely to again fall short of its maximalist objectives.
International Support Vital with Bloody Weeks Ahead
Ukraine’s foreign partners, already supplying billions in military aid, will face urgent requests for more weapons as Ukraine seeks to blunt and survive Russia’s looming assault.
Time is short, with mere weeks before the worst fighting since last winter or spring likely resumes. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed:
“We have to speed up. Time must become our weapon.”
While military assistance cannot prevent painful Russian advances, it may enable Ukraine’s forces to weather the coming storm and remain intact to defend key strategic areas and eventually recover lost terrain. Russia lacks the resources and manpower to fully occupy and control all the land it temporarily seizes.
With Ukraine and Russia both gearing up for bloody offensives that the experts predict could last months, international backing for Ukraine looks set to face its biggest test yet in the coming critical weeks.
Russia’s Original 2023 Invasion Goals vs Current Controlled Territory
|Occupy all Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts
|Hold 60% of Donetsk, 80% of Luhansk
|Failed, retreated from outskirts
|Take Odesa to control Black Sea coast
|Failed, front far from Odesa
|Link Russian-held Crimea to Donbas
|Partial land corridor secured
|Topple Kyiv government
|Survived, firmly in control with massive popular support
Table summarizing divergence between Russia’s original stated war goals and its actual territorial control as of January 2024 after nearly a year of fighting.
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